Fort Smith only has four permanently stationed RCMP officers where ordinarily there should be eight, the town’s MLA said last week.
Frieda Martselos, the Thebacha MLA, said the lack of staff was “very concerning from a safety and readiness standpoint” in light of events like a shooting and subsequent three-day police operation in March.
“They are trying very hard to serve Fort Smith, but how can only four RCMP members serve a community of 2,500 day and night?” Martselos asked in the NWT legislature.
She asked the territory’s justice minister, RJ Simpson, to intervene, declaring: “From what I see, the RCMP have an empire here in Yellowknife.”
Simpson – noting, as Martselos had, that a fifth officer had been temporarily reassigned to Fort Smith – said this was not the first time RCMP have experienced this level of short-staffing.
He attributed the current problem in part to the Covid-19 pandemic, during which, he said, RCMP had paused training in Regina.
“We are now in a time where there’s a shortage across Canada of RCMP officers, because they weren’t training. So this is an issue that everyone is feeling,” Simpson said.
Later in the week, Martselos stated she believed the territory should “review its police service agreement with the RCMP.”
Though she had earlier praised officers in Fort Smith, she more generally characterized RCMP as “overpaid and underworked,” adding police needed “greater accountability, transparency, and oversight on their conduct.”
Simpson said any such review would be pointless for at least a decade.
“The Territorial Police Services Agreement is a 20-year agreement, and it goes until the year 2032,” he told the legislature.